Essential Politics: A primer for political conversation around the dinner table


Today’s Essential Politics is a team effort, as we prepare to take a holiday break.

First, Washington bureau chief David Lauter brings you an abbreviated edition of his normal Friday afternoon newsletter looking back at the week in politics:

Every four years, political candidates descend on the coffee shops, auditoriums and fairgrounds of Iowa, seeking to introduce themselves to the state’s voters. As Mark Z. Barabak explains, the reason is not that Iowa actually picks the nation’s next president — that seldom happens — but the state’s caucuses, which kick off the primary season, do play a strong role in deciding which candidates don’t get to be president. (He also details the distinctive categories of Republicans hoping to win the Iowa caucuses.)

Donald Trump moved into the lead in Iowa polls in July, only to be passed by Ben Carson in early October. But for the last few weeks, Carson has faded in the state and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has moved up rapidly, closing to within a few points of Trump, in a couple of recent surveys. Cruz has a strong Iowa operation, and betting markets now have him as the favorite to win there.

But all that needs to be taken with a large grain of salt. The vast majority of voters, even in a state like Iowa, are only now starting to pay close attention to candidates. Over the next several weeks, polling will start to have more value in predicting the outcome of the balloting. So look for the contest to grow more intense.

The other candidate who has moved up in polls recently has been Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Analysts who believe Republican voters won’t actually nominate Trump often tout Rubio as the most likely of the elected officials in the race to win the prize. But as Michael Finnegan and Kurtis Lee report, Rubio continues to face a major headache over immigration.

For many conservatives, Rubio’s support for the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 makes him unacceptable. Trump and Cruz have both been attacking him as a supporter of what they term amnesty.

At the same time, Rubio’s decision to back away from that plan has endangered his support from Latinos in states like Colorado and Nevada. The possibility that Rubio could win Latino votes in swing states has been one of the arguments his supporters have made for why he should be the GOP nominee.

Amid the turmoil of the campaign, the Pew Research Center has produced a major study on voter attitudes. It makes for very interesting reading. One key takeaway: Voters mistrust the government in general, but they like a lot of what it does in specific.

That’s all for now.


The fees and bonuses paid to private equity firms by California’s largest public pension fund are leading to calls for reform — most notably, a lot more disclosure, Sacramento bureau chief John Myers reports.

On Tuesday, CalPERS reported that it’s paid $3.4 billion in bonuses to the managers of these firms since 1990. The pension fund’s leaders first promised back in July to reveal the full scope of the bonuses.

The first politician out of the gate demanding changes: state Treasurer John Chiang.

"The hidden fees and incomplete disclosures that are commonplace in the $3.9 trillion private equity industry are robbing us of the ability to determine the true risks and rewards of these investments," Chiang said in a written statement.

The treasurer, who’s mulling a 2018 run for governor, said he will sponsor state legislation next year to force any private equity firm wanting to do business with a California pension fund to fully disclose its policy for collecting fees.


Thanksgiving may be the most popular holiday in politics. After all, it’s the perfect time for lawmakers to step away from the rough and tumble of partisan debates and roll up their sleeves to help those in need.

In these last few hours before Thanksgiving, social media is full of California politicians pitching in to deliver turkeys and food in their communities. A number of lawmakers used the hashtag #OperationGobble to show off their efforts. For some, like Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), this was the first holiday season in public office; for others, like Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), handing out turkeys is an annual ritual.

Some pitched in with community groups and local churches, others with longtime political supporters. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom thanked farm workers by posting a video of a crew cutting celery in the fields.

And yes, there was even a dash of politics. Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), the new GOP leader in the state Senate, said she’s thankful for her chance to serve and looks forward "to fighting to make California a more affordable state for our residents in the upcoming year."


Javier Panzar reports that Twitter users can decide which California turkey President Obama should pardon during the annual ritual Wednesday: "Honest" or "Abe."

The two turkeys were raised by Foster Farms in Modesto and made the flight to Washington, D.C., from San Francisco on Monday under (fake) Secret Service guard.


-- California law enforcement officials have long focused counterterrorism efforts around landmark targets. Los Angeles International Airport, which was the subject of a failed terror plot in 2000. The U.S. Bank tower, which was mentioned in Al Qaeda documents as a possible post-9/11 target. Disneyland. The Golden Gate Bridge. Hollywood Boulevard. But the coordinated attacks earlier this month in Paris have officials rethinking their long-held risk assessments, Richard Winton, Corina Knoll and Kate Mather report.

-- Sarah Wire spoke with California tourism groups worried about proposed changes to the visa program.

-- Noah Bierman has the details of a Virginia mosque proposal just south of the Washington suburbs that has drawn the ire of some residents who are likening local Muslims to terrorists.

-- Veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow traded war stories from California’s political past on the "Beverly Hills View" show. Hear Sragow talk about all kinds of vintage lore, including when the death penalty, not Prop. 13, was considered the "third rail" of California politics, the rise of Prop. 187 and other anti-immigrant backlash, and the days when Dianne Feinstein was considered an underdog.

-- Jonah Goldberg’s latest opinion piece posits that common sense suggests Ben Carson isn’t ready to be president.

-- Ahead of Thanksgiving, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) shared the recipe for her award-winning (and likely not low-calorie) pecan pie on her office website.


Essential Politics will return to your inbox on Monday Nov. 30.

Keep an eye on our politics page for news from the campaign trail. And follow us on Twitter at @latimespolitics for in-the-moment reports from our team.

Have a wonderful holiday.


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